In the Oscar-winning film The Martian, Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney gets stranded alone on a hostile Mars. This leaves him depressed and lonely. But after a while, he gathers himself and decides to hack his mindset for survival. He announces in his video diary, ‘I’m gonna have to science the sh** out of this.’
Unless you are one of the handful of astronomers on earth, you’d probably never have the chance to leave this planet. Yet in all likelihood, you would have — at some or the other point of your life — felt like Matt Damon right here on earth: lost, alone and desperate to get out.
What if I told you it was possible to get out of your rut, to reach for the stars of your deepest desires and that — best of all — you don’t have to struggle half as much for lift-off?
What is your goal? What is your ambition in life? What would make you feel fulfilled? What if it were possible to achieve it? No, not by signing up for an expensive course, or reading a boring, long book, or attending months of lectures. But by activating some simple ‘Biohacks’, using an easy ‘Three Key Framework’ to rewire your brain for consistent high performance. Or to put it in Martian-speak, “neuroscience the sh** out of whatever you are stuck in.”
Do you know that you have 87 billion neurons, each having 7000 synapses in your body? These trillions of neural connections make up the neural pathways for everything you encounter in life: people, objects, events, behaviours, environmental cues, etc. The more you encounter them or do something repeatedly, the stronger that pathway gets, becoming your default pattern. These neural circuits create who you are.
There are trillions of neural connections in the brain and all you need is one new one.
These neural circuits are the basis of my ‘biohack’ method. I have a simple three-step framework to build and reinforce pathways, to make your biohacks more actionable and effective, and to make your neurons fire together and stay wired together.
Give me ten minutes of your life, and I’ll show you how. Okay, let’s begin.
STEP 1: THINK OF 1 GOAL YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE
What is it that you want to achieve? Is it running a marathon, losing weight, a promotion at work, becoming a more involved parent? Maybe you want a million dollars in your bank at the end of this year? Maybe you have a modest goal of sleeping and waking up on time?
This first step is the simplest. Take a piece of paper and write down that one particular goal you’d like to work on first. Think of your goal and ask yourself: what are you willing to do for it? Now go to step 2.
STEP 2: IMAGINE SUCCESS & WRITE 3 BEHAVIOURS YOU NOTICE
This is a visualization technique. I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you have already completed your goal. Look at yourself in that state. Feel what you are feeling then.
Now I want you to think about three behaviours that come to mind when you think of yourself in that positive, completed state. What do you see yourself doing? What behaviours do you see manifest in yourself? Are you walking more confidently? Are you more disciplined about your sleep? What do you find yourself doing throughout the day?
Now write down three specific behaviours that you noticed about your new self in that state of success.
STEP 3: WRITE 6 SPECIFIC HABITS OF THAT STATE
Anything that acquires a new state of being, changes habits. Water as ice slides on surfaces but when heated, it melts. Its habits change to that of flowing and taking the shape of the vessel it is kept in.
Similarly, step number three in my behaviour pyramid are habits. As you engage in those behaviours that you’ve just now identified in the new you, what are those day-to-day habits that allow you to achieve those behaviours? Try to be exact and specific. If sleep was a behaviour, what time do you stop work? What time do you go to bed? What is your bedroom like? What time do you wake up? These are habits that have become second nature to the new, future you. But I need you to think about at least six of those specific habits today and as you do, write them down because this is the journey you’re going to take with yourself.
STEP 4: WRITE 10 BIOHACKS MAKING HABITS POSSIBLE
The last and most important step I call ‘biohacks’. Biohacks are the smallest possible units of change that allow you to turn habits into second nature. Let me stick to one: sleep. If in your future state of success, you have managed to stop working at a particular time, how did you do it? What exactly did you do? Did you set an alarm to remind yourself? Or did you set a reminder on your calendar? Did you block off a certain portion of your day in your calendar instead so no one can interrupt you then? Or is there a particular place in your house where you pack your laptop away so it can’t bother you? Do you put the internet on your phone off so it stops buzzing? Do you change your clothes after work immediately? Do you take a bath before you go to sleep?
What are those small things, the biohacks that you do in that state of success? Because biohacks are those things that are too small to fail, which James Clear in his eponymous book calls ‘Atomic Habits’ while Richard Thaler calls them Nudges. I call them Biohacks. So think about those smallest possible units and write them down.
In the past 10 odd minutes, you have made your own prescription for the journey you are about to take: starting from your goal you have worked your way to seeing what you need to do to become successful. And if you have done the exercise well, you have on that piece of paper before you: one goal, three behaviours, six habits, and ten biohacks.
If you don’t have at least those numbers, then I want you to go back to the beginning of this exercise. Go through it in detail once again and complete this task because it will take you all the way up to your goal.
Now that you have the prescription, how do you ensure that you stick to it? I have three keys to help you unlock neuroscience to reach your goal by creating and reinforcing new neural pathways.
KEY 1: START SMALL, START TODAY:
Your 10 biohacks are ten very tiny triggers of habits. These are simple to do and you can begin immediately. You don’t have to start big or wait. Just start small, start today. That is the key: to start immediately and let it bring about the desired change. Change takes time and reinforcement, and the sooner you start, the better.
KEY 2: STACK THEM UP
Once you start doing those tiny biohacks, don’t stop. Keep doing it, over and over again. Think of it like stacking paper cups. The easiest way to build sustainable habits is by stacking lots of tiny triggers on top of each other. Building up any structure takes time and effort. The idea is to keep moving forward one day at a time. It’s okay to have a bad day or a dull day but the ultimate goal is to keep building the structure and eventually a habit will be formed. When a particular action becomes a habit, our brain subconsciously registers it and eventually that action comes to us naturally and effortlessly. It also helps our brain in consuming less energy. This allows us to put that mental energy to better use. Imagine the power of habits and where it is eventually going to take you to — keep improving and moving forward one day at a time while you stack your actions up.
KEY 3: CELEBRATE THE WINS
This is, without doubt, the most important key of all: you have to celebrate your victories, no matter how small they are. You kept your laptop away at a stipulated time, congratulate yourself. You ate on time, give yourself a pat on the back. The brain not just loves dopamine, it is literally addicted to it. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter made by our bodies that plays a crucial role in how we feel pleasure. Every time you have the smallest win and you allow yourself to relish the good feeling, your body releases dopamine. This dopamine burst reinforces your brain to keep repeating those actions. This in turn helps you stick to those little habits until you achieve your final, big goal, your abiding ambition.
These, in essence, are the four steps and three keys to biohack your way to success and fulfillment.
The Martian, despite its depressing premise, is a positive, uplifting film. In it, Matt Damon’s character writes down the smallest things he needs to do to survive. He not only follows through with them but also celebrates each simple win, even if he is all by himself. The Martian biohacked his way through to the most impossible goal. I guarantee you that if you follow the biohacks I’ve outlined above, so can you.